content marketing best practices

“Content marketing” comes in many shapes and sizes: blog posts, social media updates, infographics, memes, gifs, videos, white papers, emails, e-books, podcasts, etc. If there’s some way a given type of communication can be used to further a company’s business goals, you can be sure that somebody is doing it — and doing it well. All you have to do is Google “content marketing best practices” to see quite a sampling.

But a lot of those “somebodies” are big companies with big budgets. They have the financial and human resources to experiment, trying a bit of this and a bit of that…then ramping up what works and dropping what doesn’t.

Smaller businesses, however, just can’t dedicate a line item in their budget to “making mistakes.” That means they have to prioritize. Besides, when you can’t do everything, it’s better to do a few things exceptionally well than it is to give everything what my mom called “a lick and a promise.”  So when small businesses are first getting started with content marketing it’s important to focus on the things that have been proven to be most effective for companies like their own.

That’s what best practices are all about. If you can’t do it all, what should you do — and how can you do it most effectively?

Email

No, it’s not hip or cutting edge. In fact, it’s older than the Millenials on your staff, and it now attracts the same degree of disdain that “snail mail” garnered when e-mail use first became widespread.

But it works. And it doesn’t just “work” — with an ROI of 3800%, it blows other forms of marketing communication out of the water. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these stats:

  • You’re six times more likely to get a click-through from an email than from a Tweet.
  • Email is 40 times better at customer acquisition than Facebook or Twitter.
  • People who visit your site via an email link are approximately twice as likely to buy something than people who get there through search engines, and eight times more likely than people who visit through social media.

I know everybody wants to be seen as using the coolest new tech — especially tech startups — but if you have a limited budget, it’s smarter to do what works. And email works.

But, as anybody with an inbox knows, not all marketing emails are effective. Case in point: The first 23 emails in my inbox right now are marketing emails I’m not going to open. So how do you make sure your email gets opened rather than just sitting there collecting virtual dust? Again, best practices.

Automation

A lot of smaller businesses stay away from automation for a number of reasons: They’re worried about being spammy, they don’t want to lose that “personal touch” with their customers, etc. And those are legitimate concerns. But relying purely on manual email marketing means that some things get missed. Or get done so hurriedly — because you’ve got 11 fires to put out — that they do more harm than good. Automation solves that problem by letting you plan your emails out in advance, when you have the time and focus to make them as close to perfect as possible. Once you have those emails written, all you have to do is set up your triggers, and that part of your marketing will take care of itself.

Think your customers won’t like it? That worry seems to be unfounded. Automated emails have a 70% higher open rate and a 152% higher click-through rate than typical email messages.

Additional resources

13 ways to structure your email automation

The 5 must-have emails for marketing automation

Email automation

Personalization

In a nutshell, personalization is the friendly face of data and analytics. Instead of sending everybody on your mailing list the same email, you segment your target audience by factors that are relevant to your business — geography, gender, age, purchasing history etc. — and tailor your emails to that particular audience. So a clothing retailer, for instance, wouldn’t be sending promotional emails for winter weather gear to people who live in places where it’s still hot in October. And it’s very effective:

  • Targeted emails generate 58% of all email revenue.
  • Personalized emails have a 14% higher open rate and a 10% higher click-through rate.
  • Personalized emails deliver six times the transaction rates of non-targeted emails.

Smart marketers combine personalization with automation for even better targeting. Skymosity, for example, provides weather-based automation. After doing a deep dive into your data, they identify weather-based triggers that affect customer behavior, then set up emails to roll out automatically whenever those triggers are reached (segmented all the way down to zip-code level).

Additional resources:

How to use personalization in your email marketing campaigns

Blogging

For a lot of small businesses, blogging is the hub of content marketing. Blogging accomplishes a number of goals at once:

  • It drives visitors to your website — visitors who will then (hopefully) sign up to be on your email list.
  • It improves your SERP (search engine results page) rankings.
  • It helps establish you as an expert in your field.
  • It can reduce support requests by helping customers solve their own problems.
  • It can create new customers by educating people who otherwise may have had no need for or interest in your product or service.
  • It increases engagement and strengthens your relationship with your target customers so that they’ll think of you first when a need or want arises.
  • It creates a subtle feeling of appreciation/obligation that encourages people to give their business to the company that has provided them with so much helpful information.

Oh, and there’s one more: Everybody else is doing it. I usually don’t advocate that as a reason for doing much of anything, but I make an exception for blogging. With 79% of SMB marketers blogging at least monthly — and 40% doing it every week or better — not having a blog sends a red flag to potential customers. They wonder if you’re stuck in the dark ages. They wonder if you feel so entitled to their business that you think you don’t have to work for it. They may even wonder if you still exist. Just as email is essential for conversions, blogging is essential for staking out your presence on the internet: If you don’t blog, you don’t exist.

Additional resources:

Feel like you’ve missed the content marketing boat? You haven’t, so hop on board right here.

What do you want your (blog) content to accomplish?

Why blog? The benefits of blogging for business and marketing

Business blogging: 3 questions to kick things off

Content marketing for SMBs: Things to write about that are better than funny cat videos

Business blogging: Style matters

Curation

When it comes to content marketing, both quality and quantity matter. Not only do you have to publish top-notch content, you have to do it on a regular enough schedule that your audience doesn’t forget about you. Not surprisingly, a lot of SMBs struggle with creating enough original content to publish and share. In fact, 64% of all content creators — not just SMBs — have trouble creating and publishing enough content to keep their audience engaged.

The smart ones supplement original content with curated content. In essence, that’s just a fancy term for taking somebody else’s content and sharing it with your audience. You don’t just scoop it and claim it as your own — that would be plagiarism. Instead, you say something like, “So-and-so had this to say about the market for thingamajigs,” and share a link to the content and possibly a small snippet (just enough to get people interested).

Content curation can take several forms. Retweeting, for instance, is the simplest form of content curation. So is sharing posts on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+. From there, content curation can scale all the way up to professionally designed newsletters that aggregate all of the best (i.e., most relevant to your audience) content for a given time period.

Across all types of content curation, however, there’s one common mistake: People miss the opportunity to add their own spin. At its best, content curation is about thought leadership: Not only are you cool enough to find the best content, you’re smart enough to frame it with your own thoughts and analysis. If you always add your own commentary when you publish curated content, you’ll be way ahead of the game. The links I’ve included under “additional resources” are an example of that: I could have just published a list of links and called it “Everything SMBs Need to Know About Content Marketing Can Be Found In These Links.” Instead, I chose to use those links to support my own insights and conclusions.

Additional resources:

11 content curation tools every marketer needs

The 3 most effective (and overlooked) content curation strategies

15 key facts about content curation

A beginner’s guide to content curation

Promotion

Also called amplification, promotion is about getting your content in front of enough of the right eyeballs to make a difference. That “difference” might be actual conversions, or it might be additional social shares that take on a life of their own and attract the attention of customers you didn’t even know were out there. And it’s one of the most critical parts of content marketing, because the competition for audience attention is mind-boggling:

  • 2.5 quintillion (that’s 18 zeros) bytes of data are added to the internet every day.
  • More than 350,000 Tweets are sent each minute.
  • YouTube users upload 400 hours of new video every minute.
  • Instagram users “like” 2.5 million posts per minute.
  • Facebook Messenger users share more than 200,000 photos every minute.

In other words, when it comes to someone stumbling onto your content by chance, the odds are never in your favor. Whether it’s Tweeting a link to your most recent blog post, posting the link to relevant groups on LinkedIn, or asking your employees to share your content with their own social networks, if you want eyeballs, you have to go get them.

Additional resources:

How content promotion works: Our 11 favorite distribution strategies

17 advanced methods for promoting your new piece of content

Content promotion

Promoting your content to increase traffic, engagement, and sales

Repurposing

You could also call this recycling, or upcycling. Whichever term you use, it means getting as much mileage as you can out of every piece of content you create. Let’s say you have an incredible, 10x blog post. Here are some ways you could repurpose it:

  • Pull out your favorite quotes or facts and send them as a series of Tweets: different text, same link. It’s a great way of promoting your content multiple times without looking like you’re promoting it multiple times.
  • Use the information in your blog post to create an infographic. You can add it to the post itself as a visual enhancement, but you can also promote it as a separate piece of content. (Searches that include the term “infographic” have increased by 800% over the past two years.)
  • Take that same information and turn it into a SlideShare presentation.
  • Rewrite it with a slightly different spin, and publish on LinkedIn or Medium, with a link back to the original.
  • Find an engaging, relevant photo, add a few words of explanatory text, and publish it to places like Instagram, Pinterest, etc., with a link back to the original.
  • Compile your top posts around a certain theme into an e-book.
  • Take an older piece of content that gained a lot of traction, add the latest information (or delete info that is no longer accurate), and promote it as “Updated:…XYZ.”

Repurposing is custom-made for small businesses and startups because it uses a strategy we’re already quite familiar with: Getting the most out of what we have.

Additional resources:

Repurposing content

The ultimate guide to repurposing content

Neil Patel: Does repurposing content work?

Content Marketing Institute: Archived articles about repurposing

 

Whether it’s content marketing or talent acquisition strategies, small businesses need to focus on what works. Whether you call them best practices, hacks, or something else entirely, start with the methods described here. As your audience — and your revenue — grows, you can experiment with the new, trendy, cutting-edge stuff. But, if you have to start with the basics, start here. Want to know more? I’ve got a separate category of my blog dedicated just to small businesses. You can sign up to be notified when new information is added, or you can contact me directly with your questions. (And I promise I’m not a stalker, so don’t worry that asking me a question means I’m going to hound you for your business for the next 20 years.)